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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Americas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature. Commended) Hardcover – October 25, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 1–5—One extraordinary artist illuminates another in this textured, heartfelt picture book biography of the 1980s cultural phenom. Employing signature features of Jean-Michel Basquiat's work—vibrant colors, found objects, repeated motifs—Steptoe allows his own emotionally rich style to shine through the artistic and biographical references dotting the illustrations. Pieces of discarded wood from Basquiat's stomping grounds fit together to form the painted surfaces for Steptoe's scenes of the Afro Puerto Rican artist, each unfolding within a colored frame. Occasional collage elements of newsprint, photographs, and art materials add dimension and immediacy, highlighting both artists' immersion in their work and surroundings. Adhering to a straightforward chronology, Steptoe addresses events in Basquiat's life primarily as they affected his artistic growth from young boyhood in Brooklyn through the triumphant years as a critical and popular success in Manhattan. With minimal detail, the author sensitively touches upon his subject's childhood car crash and his mother's mental illness, though the story avoids his drug use and stops before his early death. Crucial back matter provides context for readers in every respect. Additional biographical information fleshes out the lyrical text of the main narrative, and an introduction to symbolism in Basquiat's work helps readers appreciate the layers at play in Steptoe's illustrations. An author's note articulates feelings that radiate from every page of the book: Steptoe's admiration for and attachment to Basquiat and his personal investment in depicting a complicated, loving relationship between a child and a mentally ill parent. VERDICT Pairing simple text with expressive, encompassing illustrations, this excellent title offers a new generation a fittingly powerful introduction to an artistic luminary.—Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY
Praise for Radiant Child:
*"In this visually arresting and vibrantly narrated biography, Steptoe...emulates 1980s street art by layering paint, paper scraps, paint tubes, and photos on found-wood panels.... Steptoe downplays tragic elements, instead celebrating Basquiat's irreverance and brilliance."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
*"Javaka Steptoe is the perfect person to create this book: a tour de force that will introduce an important artist to a new generation."―The Horn Book (starred review)
*"One extraordinary artist illuminates another in this textured, heartfelt picture book biography.... Pairing simple text with expressive, encompassing illustrations, this excellent title offers a new generation a fittingly powerful introduction to an artistic luminary."―School Library Journal (starred review)
* "This is a beautifully illustrated biography...[and] an excellent read aloud, especially in the art classroom."―School Library Connection (starred review)
* "A lively, engaging introduction to a one-of-a-kind artist perfect for art-loving kids.... An excellent read-aloud."―Booklist, starred review
"Vibrantly colored, humming with energy, Javaka Steptoe's paintings evoke the style of Jean-Michel Basquiat."―Virginian-Pilot
"Steptoe tells a complex story in simple child-appropriate language and illustrates it with paintings brimming with joy, sorrow and outsized inspiration."―Chicago Tribune
"Art need not be neat to be beautiful, a message underscored by this boldly beautiful bio of a 1980s phenom."―San Francisco Tribune
Top customer reviews
Those are the words that begin “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat,” a 40-page art-and-text book for kids by Javaka Steptoe. But… grades 1 to 5? Ages 6-10? Really? I mean, yes, great, little kids will love the art and one of them, a dreamer, will think he’ll grow up to be a great artist, but this book is also terrific for tweens who may not care about art but who like short texts and great visuals. My daughter is coming up on her 15th birthday — she’s getting this book. And you, the adult reading this: If your ideal of a visual binge is multiple episodes of something on the flat screen and you’d like some rich, vibrant eye candy wrapped around a poem, yeah, do it. (Style advice: Then put it on the coffee table, like it’s an award-winning art book.)
I’m not the only one who’s nuts about “Radiant Child.” It won the 2017 Randolph Caldecott Medal. It was a “best book” of the year for the Washington Post, NPR, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and many more. Why? Because what Javaka Steptoe has recorded in this book is the arc from dream to accomplishment. What ingredients are necessary for that to happen. Who needs to provide support. The price that gets paid. And who gets acknowledged at the pinnacle.
As a kid, he tells us, Basquiat “wakes from his dreams” to draw. His work is “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.” His mother agrees; she lies on the floor and draws with him. She takes him to theater and museums, showing him what’s possible. There’s a powerful spread of Basquiat in short pants, holding his mother’s hand, as he stares at his favorite picture, Picasso’s “Guernica.” And then, disaster: “His mother’s mind is not well.” She can no longer live at home. Heartbroken, Jean-Michel tries to draw the blues, but can’t. He leaves Brooklyn, and on the streets of New York sees an energy equal to his own. He draws on walls and streets. His graffiti gets noticed. He becomes a famous painter. People describe him as “radiant, wild, a genius child, but in his heart he is king.” He draws crowns for himself and people he admires. He still visits his mother. They talk about art. And in his paintings, he gives his mother “the place of honor. She’s “a queen on a throne.”
These few words are matched by Steptoe’s art. He doesn’t paint Basquiat’s pictures, he channels his spirit, using discarded wood and then painting on it. Steptoe creates grids, then breaks the images up; the pages aren’t neat. The result is a book of powerful physicality. And emotion — Steptoe’s father is a noted illustrator, but much of the story of Basquiat and his mother is also, sadly, the story of Steptoe and his mother.
Mental illness, the loss of a parent, art that doesn’t live between the lines — isn’t this a lot for a 6-year-old? Depends. I have a box of our daughter’s art from that age; she had something going. And what kids understand? You’d be surprised. As for their dreams, don’t be stunned if “getting famous” is on the list. A prudent parent who reads this book to a child and then hands it over would do well to have to some art supplies handy.
Basquiet died of an overdose when he was 27. But not in these pages. This is the story of a boy with a dream. He worked hard. He made it. He deserves the crown he wears. Triumph. Who doesn’t wish for that?
I'd agree with one other reviewer that it would be a shame to restrict Radiant Child to grades 1-5. It's great for anyone who has a feeling for art, image, and the creative process.